Turkey's former Environment Minister Kurum rejects negligence in collapsed gold mine

Former Environment Minister Murat Kurum has rejected claims about his responsibility in the gold mine disaster in Turkey’s eastern Erzincan province. Kurum, as the environment minister at the time, signed off on the capacity expansion plan with an environmental clearance report in 2020.

Duvar English

Murat Kurum, former Environment Minister and Istanbul’s mayoral candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Feb. 15 denied responsibility for signing off on the environmental impact assessment for the collapsed gold mine in Turkey’s eastern Erzincan district.

The Çöplük gold mine collapsed on Feb. 13, cyanide-laden dirt trapped at least nine workers and exposed critical amounts of pollutants to nature.   

Kurum spoke during a campaign visit in Istanbul. “The Environment Ministry is only responsible for monitoring if a facility harms the environment. The gold mine did not have negative impacts during my tenure,” said the former minister according to reporting by Demirören News Agency (DHA).  

He added that the mine was monitored 135 times to detect any violations of environmental regulations. The Ministry also fined the mine operator with the highest possible fee and closed down the facility for three months after a cyanide leak was detected in 2022. 

“We adamantly pursued all possible actions against the gold mine when necessary,” suggested the minister, and added that the mine restarted operation only after an expert report confirmed the company took all preventative measures. 

Kurum was criticized for approving the three-fold capacity increase plans for the gold mine. He stated that the ministry did not have the authority to make a decision, but could only assess the environmental impact of such an increase. 

The former minister held that 21 individual governmental departments and experts approved the capacity increase proposal. “Those who slender us willingly ignore this fact,” he said. 

Kurum believed a smear campaign was launched against him, setting off a barrage of accusations. “We all know the center spreading this systematic and planned propaganda campaign,” he suggested. 

He called the accusations “ill-willed political abuse” that sought to take advantage of Turkey’s grief. Critics had brought up Kurum’s Istanbul candidacy, saying his past carelessness showed the extent of the damage he could cause as a mayor. 

“Turning this moment into a political campaign is heartless,” said the former minister.